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I know the revenue growth and net income growth are both important.

A company releases a quarterly financial report that the revenue decreases 3% Y/Y, but the net income increases 72% Y/Y due to operation cost cut.

Assume there is no change on the number of outstanding shares and other conditions.

Is this a good news for investors?

I attached the financial data and the MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION here so people will have more information.

Basically, due to covid-19, the company cuts staff payment, marketing expense and development budget to save money. At the same time, its customers in the tourist and aviation industry cuts marketing budget and the company also lost some customers in this industry. I can see the reason why this happened. But other online advertising companies did see revenue growth during covid-19 pandemic, such as pubmatic and tradedesk. So, it is a concern for me.

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  • The 72% Y/Y doesn't seem to be due to "operation cost cut" but more to paying less in interest expense. Did they successfully refinance debt at lower rates? Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 8:15
  • @publicwireless I think the "Total other expense, net" has been reduced from 2496 to 816. This is a big cost cut. Interest expense is also a big cut. But there are also cuts in sales/marketing, platform operation and technology development. I am not sure whether they refinanced debt. I have to read the S-1 document again and get back to you. Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 15:22
  • The 2496 you reference is due to the interest expense, as I already mentioned. It's simply the difference between the above two lines, interest expense and other expense. The key difference remains the interest expense. Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 20:58
  • @publicwireless I think no matter what, this is cost cut, which increases the net income. Cost cut is not sustainable because you cannot always cut cost. Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 22:24

4 Answers 4

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It depends on how they cut costs so dramatically. If they fired half of their workforce, for example, but were able to fulfill most of their existing sales, then their future could be severely limited. Or if their expenses last year were unusually high due to some impairment or other non-recurring event.

In general, yes, more income is generally a good thing, but you have to look deeper at the reasons for that growth. Such a disparity in revenue growth and income growth is definitely a red flag worth investigating to decide if the reason will be good news for the future (which is what stock prices should be based on).

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  • I just added more information to my original question so you can understand the overall situation better. Thanks Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 15:08
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In theory, you could say Net Income is the "ultimate" test of a company's financials. No matter what anything else looks like, net income is the only thing that actually creates profits distributable as dividends. However, context is crucial in financial analysis, and from a long-term standpoint, net income this year is not the only thing that matters - other indications of performance can also dictate both this year's success as well as future profitability.

If revenue is shrinking as net income rises, there could be many reasons. For example:

  • Perhaps the company dropped a line of business that was a 'loss leader' item that actually cost the company profits even though it earned 'top-line' revenue [for example - maybe a supermarket bakes bread at a cost of $1.5 a loaf, but sells it at $0.50 a loaf to get buyers in the store, who then also buy items with a higher profit margin. After dropping the bakery section, maybe the store realizes that people would still come to buy the high-margin items anyway, so they stopped losing money on bread but kept earning high-traffic profits]. In a case like this, the higher profits might continue, so this could be a good sign that management is making effective changes to their business model.

  • Perhaps the company shut down its entire research department, so less corporate costs means higher profits this year, but there will never be a new product again. If the company is in a dying industry [they make VHS players and will never make anything different now], this could be a very bad sign.

  • Maybe things are slowly declining in general, but the company sold some unused land for a single-year gain. This won't be repeated, but if the land wasn't used anyway, this isn't necessarily a bad decision to have made.

In your example, I would say the disparity between NI change and Rev change are almost ludicrous. So much so that management would no doubt release commentary explaining the shift in business fundamentals in the MD&A report attached to the annual financial statements. A change so large would, in my opinion, either be an indication of something really good [if it is achievable year-over-year] or something really bad [this might be the last good year before quick-buck thinking costs the company everything].

In financial analysis, context is everything - stopping at review of just a couple of line items could make you miss something critical.

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EARNINGS is a measure of how good a company is at capitalizing off of their assets and optimizing their costs, and can be used to measure ROA and ROE, whereas REVENUE is a good indicator of how quickly and effectively management is at directing a company's growth and penetration into the market. like you said, they're both important. but this comes with caveats.

EARNINGS figures can be legally manipulated in several ways, and should be taken with a grain of salt, whereas top-line REVENUE is slightly more limited in the number of pernicious but legal ways to be fudged.

on the other hand, there's one form of revenue manipulation that's legal and probably the most common trick utilized by management.

how are earnings manipulated? there are several ways:

  1. STOCK BUYBACKS: EPS is calculated as EPS = (NI - P/O)/CSO. If a company initiates share buybacks, CSO decreases and resultantly EPS increases, projecting a false narrative that the company is more profitable than it actually is. not all stock buybacks are immoral, but they can be used in insidious ways.
  2. ACCRUAL OF EXPENSES: a corporation can report an expense, such as hiring contract work or consultants, when the expense is paid instead of when the service was rendered. it's a way for companies to push back the expense on their official SEC forms to a later quarter for advantageous reasons
  3. TIMING OPERATING ACTIVITIES: this relates to prudently selecting when to time costly operational needs to a quarter that benefits the corporation in terms of SEC reporting while also minimizing any time-to-market problems or inventory shortages.
  4. TRANSLATING BUSINESS EXPENSES: it's possible to shift operating costs away from the income statement and to the balance sheet by making them look like a current or LT "liability" instead of what they really are - a periodic, regular expense.
  5. CLASSIFICATION OF ASSET SALES: assets (such as plants and machinery) that are sold but classified as "other income/expense" will inflate earnings
  6. AMMORTIZATION OF INTANGIBLES COSTS: the ability to amortize the R&D costs of developing an intangible, such as in-house application software, across its life cycle, up to 3-5 years, instead of representing it as a one-time expense on only 1 quarter's financial statements
  7. AMMORTIZING COSTS TOO SLOWLY: operating costs can be severely understated if a company uses an estimated average that's too small.
  8. ONE-TIME RESTRUCTURING PAYMENTS: sometimes a company wants to focus on their most competitive areas of expertise by reallocating its efforts from unlucrative segments. if a company is restructuring its business, eliminating business segments, discontinuing a product or service, or relocating its activities to a new region, the costs associated with such a process are tabulated into the income statement, but often are ignored by analysts and institutional investors, since it's not a recurring charge. as a result, the stock might not lose value, but these events can financially strain the company, and don't guarantee future success.
  9. FUDGING ACCRUALS AND GOODWILL FROM MERGERS: mergers and acquisitions also represent a one-time expense, and there are a plethora of methods a company can misrepresent the goodwill value added from an acquisition, or attribute more/less expenses than is necessary to complete the merger and any restructuring involved.
  10. MATERIALITY FUDGING: company can fudge the numbers by a small amount, within the acceptable margin of error set forth by the SEC, either knowingly or unknowingly. although mostly immaterial on each individual income statement, in the broader term, this will make their retained earnings figures on the balance sheet materially wrong

However, there are clever things they do with the revenue line item, as well, like:

  • counting units that are still in distributors' inventories (and not yet sold) as "revenue",
  • → ◆ a̲g̲g̲r̲e̲s̲s̲i̲v̲e̲l̲y̲ ̲b̲o̲o̲s̲t̲i̲n̲g̲ ̲s̲a̲l̲e̲s̲ ̲b̲y̲ ̲p̲r̲o̲v̲i̲d̲i̲n̲g̲ ̲o̲v̲e̲r̲t̲i̲m̲e̲ ̲a̲n̲d̲ ̲o̲t̲h̲e̲r̲ ̲i̲n̲c̲e̲n̲t̲i̲v̲e̲s̲ ̲t̲o̲ ̲i̲t̲s̲ ̲l̲a̲b̲o̲r̲ ̲f̲o̲r̲c̲e̲ ̲d̲u̲r̲i̲n̲g̲ ̲t̲h̲a̲t̲ ̲s̲p̲e̲c̲i̲f̲i̲c̲ ̲q̲u̲a̲r̲t̲e̲r̲ ◆ ←, and even
  • reporting future revenue from multi-year or multi-quarter contracts.

While there aren't quite as many unique types of revenue games as there are for operating costs, t̲h̲e̲ ̲m̲o̲s̲t̲ ̲c̲o̲m̲m̲o̲n̲ ̲t̲a̲r̲g̲e̲t̲ ̲o̲f̲ ̲m̲a̲n̲i̲p̲u̲l̲a̲t̲i̲o̲n̲ ̲(̲o̲n̲ ̲a̲n̲y̲ ̲f̲i̲n̲a̲n̲c̲i̲a̲l̲ ̲f̲o̲r̲m̲)̲ ̲f̲r̲o̲m̲ ̲t̲h̲e̲ ̲m̲a̲n̲a̲g̲e̲m̲e̲n̲t̲ ̲t̲e̲a̲m̲ ̲i̲s̲ ̲f̲o̲r̲c̲e̲f̲u̲l̲l̲y̲ ̲t̲i̲m̲i̲n̲g̲ ̲t̲h̲e̲ ̲r̲e̲c̲o̲g̲n̲i̲t̲i̲o̲n̲ ̲o̲f̲ ̲r̲e̲v̲e̲n̲u̲e̲,̲ ̲a̲s̲ ̲l̲i̲s̲t̲e̲d̲ ̲a̲b̲o̲v̲e̲.

As investors, we should be aware of these things in order to guard ourselves from manipulation.

With a final note, you can refer to a company's so-called Beneish m-score, a weighted score of financial metrics and key ratios, in order to determine if a company is a likely manipulator of their financial documents. It's not a perfect test, but it can certainly be a double check of extra scrutiny.

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This seems straightforward, hopefully I understood your question correctly.

If net income increased 72% YoY, then investors benefit from greater return on equity (equity hasn't changed).

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  • Do you mean the little bit decrease in revenue is not important here? However, investors may worry that if revenue decline continues, the net income will also be hurt eventually because you can not always reduce operation cost. What do you think? Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 2:04
  • Well, it seems insignificant compared to the substantial cost decrease. Whether the 3% is impactful may depend on expectations and multiple other factors. The permanence (or lack thereof) of cost cutting is also an argument that could be applied to revenues but without more details, I would not use it as an excuse to "downplay" 72% yoy net income increase.
    – ApplePie
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 2:40
  • I kind of agree with you. This is a mixed bag financial report. This company is called Viant Technology. I read the "manager analysis" section of its S1 report. It does say "because of covid-19, it lost some customers in the aviation and travel section". Also, it cuts employment payment and some employees work part-time. But other online advertising companies did see revenue growth during covid-19 pandemic, such as pubmatic. So, this is a mixed financial report. But possibly the upside outweighs the downside. Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 4:26
  • @JerryZhang You should add that context to the question. In this case, the costs cut might spell disaster for future years - either the company massively overpaid staff who weren't adding value, or (more likely), the value that gets added by the cut staff won't be felt until down the road as other sources of income dry up. ie: If you completely wipe out your outside sales group who takes an average of 3 years to land a massive client, then you won't feel the loss of future clients for 3 years, at which point the loss could be huge. Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 14:53

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